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SXSW 2015: ‘Manglehorn’ is as aimless as its eponymous character

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Manglehorn
Written by Paul Logan
Directed by David Gordon Green
USA, 2014

Angelo Manglehorn (Al Pacino) is a man adrift. He has no connections to tie him to the world, no close relationships with family or friends. As a locksmith, he spends his days crafting spare keys or helping people who have locked themselves out of their cars. When the day is done, he returns home to spend the evening with his sole companion: his cat, Fanny. Much like its eponymous character, David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn drifts aimlessly, never bothering to make meaningful connections between characters or story elements.

The film’s greatest weakness is its inability to adequately flesh out its various characters. One of Manglehorn’s most defining traits is his obsession with a woman named Clara. He ostensibly had a relationship with her that ended badly, and now he spends much of his time writing her letters, which she never answers. Who this woman is and how she factored into Manglehorn’s life is anybody’s guess. The film never provides a sufficient answer, and one of the prime mysteries concerning the protagonist remains an enigma.

A multitude of other characters populate Manglehorn, but none of them comes across as a full-fledged individual. Manglehorn’s son Jacob (Chris Messina), a wealthy executive, flits in and out of the story, with most of his screen time devoted to yelling at the protagonist for being an inadequate father. Dripping with sleaze and vulgarity, Harmony Korine plays a local tanning salon owner and longtime friend of Manglehorn. Though Korine imbues his role with a crude charm, he does not occupy a meaningful place in the universe of the story. If there is one performer who fares well in Manglehorn it is Holly Hunter, who plays a bank teller and Pacino’s love interest. Her character may not have many defining traits, but the tender relationship that develops between her and Manglehorn provides the film with a much needed anchor.

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With the exception of Hunter and Pacino, there is a high level of disconnect between all of the characters. Further exacerbating Manglehorn’s disjointed atmosphere is Paul Logan’s almost nonsensical screenplay. So many scenes contain next to no narrative significance. In one maddeningly incoherent moment, a stranger walks into the bank where Hunter works and breaks into a gospel song. Adding to the confusion, the bank manager joins him in a duet. At another point in the film, Fanny swallows a key, and Green elects to film her subsequent surgery in gruesome detail. Such a development could have been conveyed in a few lines of dialogue, and witnessing the surgery contributes nothing to the narrative.

Manglehorn is composed of underdeveloped, disconnected characters and disparate story elements. There is little connective tissue binding the film together. One scene haphazardly transitions to the next until the narrative reaches its futile conclusion. Despite having an aimless character at its center, Manglehorn has no excuse for being so meandering.

— Jacob Carter




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